We are pleased to be adding a fifth installment to our #sexworkstories series. This story is told by Ricki, a long time client of Peers, who shares a lot of wisdom based on his two decades of sex work experience.
I’m a sex worker transitioning out of the industry. Sex work happened to me by fluke 20 years ago, but it has come in handy. I was always working minimum-wage jobs, so sex work gave me additional income. It’s not easy raising two kids on minimum wage.
I’m originally from Vancouver Island. A place that I feel like I’ve spent half my life trying to leave, and the rest trying to get back to. I’ve worked in the park; I’ve also worked in Vancouver. I would post on Craigslist what bathhouse I was going to be in, and make up to $3,000 in a few hours. But I couldn’t hustle straight and the money never lasted long. I got to a point where I was homeless and couch-surfing.
I’ve been an active client of Peers for a number of years but when I first connected with them it was through their Men@Peers program. In those days, it was sandwiches, lube and condoms provided by outreach staff down at Beacon Hill Park. At that point I found myself in a spot where I wasn’t comfortable, really second-guessing myself. I was very close to rock-bottom.
During that time in my life, it had been becoming even easier for me to get high for the hustle, so it didn’t take long for me to feel worse and worse about myself. Some of my family members had really grave concerns, because they’d witnessed the change in my demeanor. It all happened in about nine months. Everyone was aware that I wasn’t looking the same, acting the same. I’d always been happy-go-lucky, and “party and play” had worked for me. But things were different.
There was this time about six or seven years ago, when I was involved in after-hours scene, when I ended up on life support for four and a half days. I woke up on the sixth day and was so surprised to see my mom there. But then I went right back out working.
I think what really made me want to get out of the hustle was a bad date. I had a bad mental health breakdown as a result. When the most severe bad date you can imagine happens, it definitely gets you thinking, “Damn, boy, you’ve got to get out.” When you can’t control who, when, where… “you’re in trouble”. A sentiment I continue to echo to myself. After that bad date happened, I knew I didn’t want to be in either of those two dark places ever again.
After I had the breakdown my sister had the option of having me sectioned (under the Mental Health Act), but she didn’t want to, so she called Peers. And that created a series of stepping stones. They were really helpful in getting me set up with counselling, outpatient services, housing. I come to Peers virtually every day now.
These days, I’m not attempting to stop hustling, but I have gone some months without it. I have established housing now, and Peers was very instrumental in that. They’ve suggested I enroll in an addiction education program given the stage of addiction I was at, I thought it would be useful for me. Through that program I learned that not everybody’s bottom is the same. Through the program I was able to learn and to think without judgment. It gave me insights into my own life.
Right now, it’s been nine months without intravenous drug use. There are longer and longer periods between my usage. I’ve gained a lot of confidence through Peers recognizing my success, and through getting housing, reconnecting with my family. I had closed a lot of people off.
Last fall, I participated in another training program with Peers, on health and wellness. That was the thing that gave me the idea that the longer I stay away from my own using, the lower my risk is for blood-borne infections. It created a snowball effect in me to want to learn more. Being armed with that knowledge keeps me safe and healthy. Keeping healthy is now at the forefront of my mind. I’m approaching my mid-40s, and it’s clear to me that I don’t want to be here when I’m 60. That’s not a judgment – just an observation.
For the first year and a bit at Peers, I think I was the only male who walked through the doors. But I’ve seen half a dozen come through since then. Being engaged with Peers over the last few years has heightened my sex-positive identity. I would never have identified as a sex worker five years ago – my hustle was my deepest darkest secret. The lies I made up! You tell so many of them.
There’s a lot of resentment and anger among those who know me when they gain the knowledge of who I really am. But it’s not someone else’s story to tell until I’m ready to share it. Now, there’s an intimate circle of friends and family who know my story. I’ve even become more comfortable at having my family drop me off at Peers instead of a couple blocks so away so they wouldn’t know where I was going.
My kids are at an age now that if I ever had to explain to them this whole double life of mine, it would be done in a supportive atmosphere. I’ve learned you don’t have to pick up every piece, and that not all of it belongs to me. I’m happy I can share my story, which is not just my story but shared with the agency that helped me with the resourcefulness, with the tools, to get to a different place.